If everyone but you is reaching for their passports, let this be the year you discover a little authentic Italian on your doorstep. Vini Poderi Crisci is a fabulous fine-dining hideaway, winery and olive grove on the southern side of Waiheke Island. By the time you come across it, at the end of a slim, unsealed road, you might almost think you’d lost your way. But then, just at the last minute, you arrive, and discover a touch of Tuscany perched below a hillside of vines, and looking out over a wetland of gentle lichen-grey mangroves.
The gardens set the Italian scene with a pretty fountain enclosed in a low, tightly trimmed hedge, catching the light on the front lawn. A raised promenade, flanked by a wall of prostrate rosemary, leads up to a tightly-structured, formal garden outlined with hedges, and backed by tall cypress. Paths dominate, with sculpture, for which Waiheke island is famous, taking the place of traditional Italian statuary.
Where things become even more delightfully different is the inclusion of edible beds in the formal garden. Supplying La Locanda (the estate’s restaurant) with fresh produce, the gardens include a range of Italian treats from fresh herbs and corn salata, to winter-red radiccio.
La Locanda, which translates literally as ‘The Inn’, is perhaps best known for its al fresco summer dining, but to step inside the eatery on a brisk winter afternoon is to encounter delicious fragrances emanating from the open kitchen, and to catch the soft chink of wine glasses and animated conversation – this is food and drink worthy of serious discussion!
If you have an entire Sunday afternoon at your disposal, choose the 5-course ‘long lunch’ menu and be transported to Italy where, even today, many families still take this traditional lunch break of 2-3 hours to enjoy a meal together. If time is limited, team the warm button mushrooms, broccoli with anchovies, sultanas and pinenuts, and a rich eggplant salad (the ‘contorni’ course) with ‘pane e antipasto’ – a selection of Italian-inspired breads, olives and the estate’s own new-season olive oil.
The staff at La Locanda are extremely knowledgable, and are happy to guide you through the wine selection. Two whites stand out: Poderi Crisci Pino Grigio 2017 – crisp, rich and dry, and Poderi Crisci Arneis 2018, from a very old variety of grape of indistinct origin. Once used in the production of sweet wines, the Poderi Crisci vintage is very light and dry. Do ask to taste both although, in the end, if the day is cold, you may prefer the rich, smoky flavours of Poderi Crisci Merlot Riserva 2013.
It would be a pity not to end your La Lagonda day out with a desert, and although the choice is yours, little compares on the plate, as well as on the tastebuds, to ‘Tortin di Cioccalato’, a fondant of dark chocolate encased in a light, warm individual torte, served with a fragrant berry sorbet and tangy coulis. Espresso (do try to have it short and black to appreciate the artistry that goes into preparing it) finishes off what will surely be a highly memorable day out on the island. It certainly was for me!